FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Had things worked out a little differently, the Jets could have been going to Cleveland this week to face Sam Darnold instead of flying there with him.
The Browns had the No. 1 pick in the draft, and many believedthey would take Darnold. Cleveland surprised and selected Baker Mayfield. Darnold went No. 3 and is the face of the Jets and the future of their franchise. But he said he thought he could have been a Brown.
“Yeah, I thought I could have ended up there or several other teams,” Darnold said after practice Monday. “I haven’t even thought of that since I got drafted by the Jets. With them having the one pick I guess there’d be a chance that I might have gone there. I was thinking about it before. Ever since the draft I haven’t thought about it.”
Darnold will lead the Jets into Cleveland on short rest Thursday night, looking to bounce back from Sunday’s disappointing 20-12 loss to the Dolphins.
But it won’t be a Darnold against Mayfield showdown. The Browns acquired Tyrod Taylor from the Bills and he’s running Cleveland’s offense, while Mayfield serves as the backup. Cleveland is looking for its first victory since Dec. 24, 2016.
Darnold didn’t play poorly in his home debut. He threw for 334 yards and a touchdown. But he was picked off twice. Costly penalties on both sides of the ball and turnovers proved to be the Jets’ downfall. Darnold said he went home and watched video of the game and then quickly moved on to preparing for the Browns.
“Other than the two picks I thought I played pretty well,” Darnold said. “I’m just going to continue to try to play as consistent as possible, find completions when I can and take shots when I can.”
Darnold is only 21, but he’s very mature. He seems to be able to pick things up quickly, learn, and move on to the next challenge. He doesn’t dwell in the past, which should serve him well as a quarterback in New York.
Darnold was given the opportunity to say he’s looking forward to showing the Browns they made a mistake by passing on him, and he did what comes naturally for him — he passed.
“No,” Darnold said. “I’m just going to go out there and play ball.”
The Browns were high on Darnold. When pictures surfaced of owner Jimmy Haslem sitting in the stands with Darnold’s parents at Sam’s pro day at USC, it only fueled the belief that he would be going to Cleveland at No. 1.
“During that time, it was pretty funny,” Darnold said. “That’s a time of just the draft process, going to see teams and other than that there wasn’t much going on in my life. So It was awesome to be able to look at that. I had a laugh with my friends and all that kind of stuff. At the same time, I haven’t thought about it much since then.”
But Darnold has only positive things to say about the Browns.
“The owner is a great person,” he said. “The Haslem family, great people. The coaching staff is amazing as well. Coach [Hue] Jackson and what the whole coaching staff is capable of is nothing short of a championship. I’m really excited to play against them and I have great respect for their coaching staff and organization.”
Things couldn’t have worked out better for the Jets.
Once Mayfield was picked, the Jets were in position to get one of three potential franchise quarterbacks— Darnold, Josh Allen or Josh Rosen. All three were available when the Jets picked after the Giants took running back Saquon Barkley second.
It’s also worked out for Darnold, who signed a four-year, $30.5-million contract with the Jets. He was the youngest quarterback to start Week 1 since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, and he’s gaining important experience. Darnold also doesn’t seem to be the kind of person that concerns himself with the cache and distinction of being the No. 1 pick.
“I was excited to go anywhere,” he said. “Whoever wanted me, whoever wanted to pick me. I was a top pick. To me it was a dream come true when it happened. I wasn’t concerned necessarily with who was picking me but more of where I was going and where I might spend the next, for now, three or four years.”
The Jets and their fans hope it’s much longer than that.